Welcome to Yorkshire halves staffing numbers as £760,000 cut from wage bill

Tourist agency Welcome to Yorkshire has more than halved its number of employees in the past year to cut £760,000 from its wage bill, chief executive James Mason has revealed.

Welcome to Yorkshire's chief executive James Mason. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Welcome to Yorkshire's chief executive James Mason. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Speaking at a company board meeting on Friday afternoon, Mr Mason said the agency - which receives around half of its income from the public sector - has gone from having 49 employees in July 2019 to just 22 at the start of this month, with annual staff costs falling from £1.6m to £840,000 over the same period as a result.

Some of the reductions have come through departing staff members not being replaced but the agency has also recently completed a redundancy process as it seeks to balance the books following a difficult 18 months after the resignation of original chief executive Sir Gary Verity amidst allegations about his expenses spending and treatment of staff.

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Mr Mason, who joined Welcome to Yorkshire in January with a remit to cut costs, said a new staffing structure is to be implemented following the completion of the redundancy process.

“It has been a difficult and painful process and my sympathies are with the number of staff members who have lost their jobs,” he said.

“This is part of an ongoing review to ensure Welcome to Yorkshire provides value for money and has the best structure to provide the best possible service for Yorkshire.”

At the board meeting, reports on the company’s finances and pension scheme were held in private.

The agency has asked local councils for an additional £1.4m of emergency funding in recent weeks to cover the loss of an anticipated £1m in business rates pool funding and £400,000 linked to freezing membership subscriptions for business members.

WtY chairman Peter Box warned council bosses that the agency would have to consider closure if the money was not granted.

So far, councils in South and North Yorkshire have committed to providing almost £600,000 to the agency, with authorities in East and West Yorkshire yet to announce decisions.

In the public part of the meeting, Mr Mason said despite the loss of income, he believes the decision to freeze subscription costs for tourism businesses when lockdown hit is now being vindicated.

“The decision to suspend membership fees has proven to be the right one. I have had messages saying, ‘Thank you for supporting us in our time of need’.”

Mr Mason said that as part of his ongoing attempts to change Welcome to Yorkshire’s business model and make it less reliant on public sector funding, work is taking place on allowing visitors to directly book hotels and restaurant from the agency’s yorkshire.com website.

“This is something we are really working hard on with some experts behind the scenes,” he said.

He said he wanted to move the website beyond being a “shop window” for the region’s tourism industry into a booking platform.

Board member and North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les said he was supportive of Mr Mason’s ambitions.

He said fellow council leaders were starting to trust in the organisation again following a difficult period after the resignation of Sir Gary.

“There has been a problem of trust and confidence fairly recently but we are through that now,” he said.

“We have new management and new ideas - things I had never thought about before. I’m right behind the new chief executive.”

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